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Do I Have to Suffer From All Those Interruptions During the Day?

Reducing the number of interruptions often demands an adjustment in attitude; that is, you need to accept responsibility for controlling the interruptions in your work. Admittedly, you won’t be able to control them all. But there are ones that you can. For example, you can’t control when someone calls you, but you can control whether or not to take the call. You may not be able to prevent people from popping into your office, but you can influence how long they stay.

Consider taking these actions:

  1. Use voicemail to screen incoming calls.
  2. Establish quiet hours during which you accept only emergency calls.
  3. Tell those who call you regularly when you prefer to receive calls.
  4. Get through the social "small talk" as quickly as possible.
  5. Bring calls to a prompt close.

If most of your interruptions are from drop-in visitors, here are some steps to take:

  1. Close your door.
  2. Encourage the use of appointments rather than unscheduled visits.
  3. Stand up when someone comes in and remain standing while you talk.
  4. Rearrange your office furniture so you are not facing the traffic flow.
  5. Encourage your staff members to save up several items and go over them all at one time.
  6. Be candid when someone asks, "Have a minute?"

Tell Me More

Let’s look at some specific actions you can take. Let’s begin by reviewing some steps you can take to minimize telephone interruptions:

Use voicemail to screen incoming calls. Forward those calls that can be handled by others.

Establish quiet hours during which you accept only emergency calls. Once again, rely on voicemail to free you to focus fully on your work. It may be a critical project that demands your attention, or it may just be your day-to-day work that would otherwise pile up if you allowed interruptions.

Tell those who call you regularly when you prefer to receive calls. Most people will cooperate and try to call at the preferred times, especially if they realize the chances are much better of actually getting you at that time.

Get through the social "small talk" as quickly as possible. Get right to the point and stay there.

Bring calls to a prompt close. Tell long-winded callers that you have a pressing appointment or deadline.

If most of your interruptions are from drop-in visitors, here are some steps to take:

Close your door. Regular quiet time will allow you to concentrate on tasks and accomplish a great deal in a short time.

Encourage the use of appointments rather than unscheduled visits. Go to the other person’s office if he or she must see you; you’ll have more control of when to leave.

Stand up when someone comes in and remain standing while you talk. Visitors won’t stay so long if you remain standing while they are in your office. Likewise, group meetings. Shorten the time spent by holding stand-up sessions in hallways, reception areas, and conference rooms.

Rearrange your office furniture so you are not facing the traffic flow. If you can avoid eye-contact with people passing by, you will block many casual interruptions.

Encourage your staff members to save up several items and go over them all at one time. Do this yourself, too. If everyone would simply bunch things together, the interruption problem would be cut in half almost immediately.

Be candid when someone asks, "Have a minute?" Learn to say no. Be quick to take time for critical issues, but be slow to respond to trivial matters. Practice saying no, and, as important, learn to recognize when no is the "appropriate" answer. For instance, a customer’s visit is never an interruption.

Record the nature of interruptions for several days. When do they occur? Are they telephone calls or drop-in visits? How long do they last? Who is involved? What are they about? How important are they? An interruption log is easy to keep and will offer amazing insights once you study the results. You are likely to see patterns.

Whatever the patterns you find, you will be able to break your interruptions into definable problems and tackle them one at a time.